Seanad debates

Wednesday, 6 March 2024

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Vacant Properties

10:30 am

Photo of Pippa HackettPippa Hackett (Green Party) | Oireachtas source

I sincerely thank Senator Chambers for raising this really important issue and allowing me the opportunity to provide an update on this matter on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Coveney.

It is important to first acknowledge a high level of vacancy does not represent a productive use of commercial infrastructure. However, it should also be noted that vacancy levels can rise and fall depending on economic activity as well as in response to broader economic trends. For example, the shift in work patterns initially precipitated by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to the current context in which a significant portion of commercial property in many of our towns and cities is currently vacant. With that said, I am conscious of the need to ensure the existing commercial space across the country is put to the best use possible. Certainly, Senator Chambers has highlighted some very stark figures.

Tackling vacancy is a key priority for this Government. The programme for Government commits to examining ways to ensure unused and underused building stock in urban centres can be made available for much-needed housing. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has also convened a working group on the redevelopment of vacant commercial properties, which the Minister, Deputy Coveney's Department participates in. The objective of the group is to assess and make recommendations about the potential for the development of vacant commercial properties for housing. It is anticipated the working group will submit recommendations to the Minister for housing in quarter 2 of this year. Increasing housing supply is also of paramount importance in ensuring that Ireland remains a competitive location for FDI. Given the current volume of vacant commercial property, I understand commercial-to-residential conversions could represent a significant opportunity, especially in urban locations.

The city of Galway is a crucial part of the west’s attractiveness to FDI. There are 128 IDA-supported companies in the west region, with 103 in Galway city and county. These employ 24,080 people, notwithstanding that employment in the west region dipped slightly in 2023, including in Galway. The availability of property and infrastructure solutions that meet the needs of MNCs and indigenous clients remain essential to winning investments and the IDA currently has a second building under construction in Galway as well as a building in Oranmore at site selection stage.

Regarding specific interventions, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage launched the vacant property refurbishment grant in July 2022. The grant provides support of up to €50,000 for the refurbishment of vacant properties, including over the shop residential units, with a further €20,000 available where a property is derelict. More recently, the town centre first policy was launched by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Department of Rural and Community Development in February 2022 to tackle vacancy and dereliction and breathe new life into our towns. The Minister, Deputy Coveney's Department is also leading on the increased cost of business grant announced as part of budget 2024, which will target SMEs operating from a rateable premises. The grant is intended to aid firms most affected by increases in business costs, but is not intended to compensate for all increases in wages, or other costs, for every business.


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